What's Next For Virginia's HOT Lanes
A week ago, the HOT lanes project was the best best for easing traffic congestion in one of the Washington region's most troubled travel corridors. Today, it's just one more idea we can debate endlessly, the same way we talk about getting hybrids out of the carpool lanes or getting better enforcement of the HOV rules.
Virginia's decision to delay the I-95/395 HOT lanes project almost certainly pushes the program into the next governor's administration, when we can have all the debates all over again. (The Beltway HOT lanes are not affected.)
Meanwhile, all the reasons for needing a congestion relief project on our main north-south highway will continue their advance. Even on Monday, as Gov. Tim Kaine's office was announcing a stand-down on the project, Transportation Secretary Pierce R. Homer said to The Post what he's said all along about a key reason for advancing it: "It is essential to serving the nearly 90,000 Department of Defense employees who live and work in the I-95/395 corridor." The base realignment program that will draw thousands more military employees into the area is proceeding.
Inside the Beltway
Malcolm T. Kerley, VDOT's chief engineer, wrote a letter to local officials saying the HOT lanes project team will continue to work with Arlington, Alexandria and Fairfax County to address local traffic issues between Eads Street and Duke Street. "There is very significant work underway to address the traffic impacts of BRAC and other new development at Seminary Road and to minimize or eliminate local traffic impacts at the Shirlington rotary," he said.
However, "Better understanding of the local impacts and the operational issues at Eads Street will require more time and analysis."
Outside the Beltway
Meanwhile, he wrote, the project team will continue to work with Stafford, Prince William and Fairfax County to develop the portion of the HOT lanes project between Garrison Road and just inside the Beltway. That work will include identifying additional commuter parking spaces and other transit investments.
He said it's possible those improvements could develop more quickly than the developments inside the Beltway. (You can read the full text of the Kerley letter on Peter Samuel's TOLLROADSnews Web site.)
Bob Chase of the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance calls the delay a setback, but how big a setback, he says, depends on whether it turns out to be short term or long term.
Chase, who is one of the region's leading advocates for transportation improvements, says: "There's no plan B (or even a plan A) for most of the most effective transportation improvements in this area because of lack of funds and political will."
"HOT Lanes clearly were the best bet for short-term relief in the corridor. Longer term relief will require construction of alternate corridors such as eastern and western regional bypasses to divert long distance East Coast traffic around the metro area and provide more direct connections to major employment and economic centers such as Washington Dulles International Airport," Chase wrote in an e-mail.
"Given national and regional population and job projections, we can never construct enough lanes in the I-95/I-395 corridor to met demand. Alternatives are needed to better distribute autos, buses and trucks."
But those alternative plans have been harder to come by than political and economic support for the HOT lanes project, suggesting that Virginia will stew in its own traffic for years to come.
August 18, 2009; 10:36 AM ET
| Tags: Dr. Gridlock, HOT lanes, Homer, Kaine
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